Brown at the double as OEs hit the top spot
Alex Brown scored a brace of tries as high-flying Elthamians soared to the summit of the National One table with a 32-12 victory at Cinderford.
Cinderford 12 Old Elthamians 32
This was a hugely impressive and intelligent performance from OEs, every bit as emphatic as the scoreline suggests, particularly in the second half playing into a strong wind against a powerful set of home forwards.
Indeed, the second 40 minutes were as good as any they have produced this season. With Tom White pulling the strings at fly-half, and lock Adam Preocanin, on his return to the side, a commanding physical presence around the park and in the set piece, Elthamians’ game management and execution with the ball in hand were simply outstanding.
They protected the ball as if their lives depended on it in difficult conditions, patiently building through phase after phase, pulling the Cinderford defence left and right and waiting either for space to appear out wide or for the home side to commit an error or concede a penalty.
Indeed, Cinderford spent much of the second period without the ball, forced into making tackle after tackle as Elthamians, with outstanding support play throughout, attacked in waves.
It’s to Cinderford’s credit that having been under the cosh for the majority of the second period, they mustered the energy to finish the game strongly and gain some reward for their efforts with a penalty try in the closing moments. It was of minor consolation, however, because by then the damage had already been well and truly done.
On Elthamians’ only previous visit to Dockham Road in their National Two South promotion-winning season of 2016-17, they romped to an emphatic 55-12 victory in scorching conditions and on a rock hard surface.
Twelve of the OEs side who played in that game featured again here but in very different conditions with dark clouds overhead and a strong, blustery wind blowing down the pitch.
With the elements behind them in the opening 40 minutes, White gave the visitors an early lead with a well struck penalty, but Cinderford responded with the first try of the game on 15 minutes. A catch and drive from a lineout on the edge of the OEs 22 was moved quickly wide for Jake Morris to put a clever kick through and allow winger Sam Smith to touch down in the corner.
Elthamians started to build some continuity and a sniping break down the blindside of a scrum from Ollie Claxton set up excellent field position on the edge of the home 22. Slick hands saw the ball moved swiftly down the line for Brown to cut inside his opposite number and dive over in the corner on 22 minutes.
In an evenly contested first period, it was OEs who finished the half in the ascendancy, taking a 15-5 lead at the interval thanks to a well-crafted second try. After a prolonged multi-phase period of pressure on the edge of the Cinderford 22, Claxton and Harry Ledger combined to send centre Kieran Moffat crashing over, White converting.
Elthamians’ 10-point advantage did not look like being enough with the difficult conditions against them in the second period. However, they proceeded to produce an outstanding 40 minutes of controlled, error-free possession rugby to squash any Cinderford hopes of a fightback.
Just five minutes after the restart, full-back Charlie Dockery scored his fourth try in as many games, diving over in the left hand corner after a wonderful break from James Golledge and another off-load from Ledger.
The visitors continued to secure plenty of possession, building effectively through the phases to stretch the over-worked home defence. Claxton sniped over for the bonus point try on 68 minutes after the OEs pack shunted the Cinderford scrum back over their own try-line, and when Brown raced over for his second try of the afternoon almost from the restart after some excellent handling and support play, Elthamians were out of sight, leading 32-5.
Cinderford fought back well in the closing stages after a sustained period of pressure in the OEs 22, during which the ubiquitous Preocanin and Kieran Moffat were shown yellow cards within five minutes of each other, and they were awarded a penalty try for repeated Elthamians infringements. But it had little effect on the buoyant visitors who secured their 10th victory in 14 league games to take over from close rivals Blackheath at the top of National One.
Tries: Smith 15 Penalty try 78
Tries: Brown 22 66 Moffat 39, Dockery 45 Claxton 63
Cons: White 40 64
Pens: White 7
Old Elthamians: Dockery, Lespierre, Golledge, Moffat, A Brown, White, Claxton, Rogers, Morris, Scutt, Hosking, Preocanin, Ledger, King. Subs: North, Rudland-Thomas, Messum, Morgan, Perkins.
Half-time: Cinderford 5 Old Elthamians 15
Referee: Benjamin Russell